The NHS in England is planning to “ramp up” testing facilities so that 10,000 coronavirus tests can be performed each day.
So far more than 25,000 tests have been conducted by public health officials in England.
But it is hoped that within weeks, 10,000 swabs will be assessed each day.
The news comes as England’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries said that “many thousands of people” would contract coronavirus as the disease continued to spread in the UK.
At present, diagnostic facilities can perform around 2,000 tests a day but the NHS announced it was undertaking a “significant expansion”.
Public Health England developed a highly sensitive test to detect the virus which has been rapidly rolled out to its regional labs across the country.
Now local hospital labs will join specialist services, including those already provided by PHE, in being able to accurately detect the presence of the new virus.
“England’s NHS has world-leading expertise and every hospital across the country, and the healthcare professionals who run them, are now actively planning to respond flexibly to manage new demand.
“The public can help us to help the country to stay safe by practising good hygiene and washing their hands more often, for at least 20 seconds.”
Professor Sharon Peacock, director of the National Infection Service at Public Health England, added: “Wider testing is important as it allows us to continue to meet demand as the number of people being tested increases in the coming weeks. This will ensure that PHE and the NHS have the most robust system possible to understand what is happening with the virus.
“PHE has continued to process the vast majority of test results within 24 hours of receiving the sample in a PHE laboratory and returning them to NHS colleagues and will continue to do so.”
Testing was initially only conducted at PHE specialist labs, with the next phase of the rollout seeing 10 NHS microbiology services called to step up doubling the number of daily tests.
Further testing will be conducted by some NHS pathology services as the diagnostic programme rolls out.